Obama’s Hearing Problem


In December, I did some research into how Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton each used legislative machinery at their disposal in the Senate to get some sense of their “executive abilities”. For some reason, I expected Hillary Clinton to be too busy for things like subcommittee hearings and Obama to be drilling in and learning as much as he could because his experience in federal level legislative affairs might be perceived as weak.
I found the opposite — and discovered that Barack Obama, despite his role as Chairman of the European Subcommittee on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, had not held a single policy hearing during his tenure. In the Environment and Public Works Committee Subcommittee on Superfund and Environmental Health, I found that Clinton had chaired and been actively engaged in a number of hearings during the same period.
When I discovered this, a number of Obama’s own foreign policy advisers called me — and one said, “I am as surprised as you are.”
What is important to understand here is not that Obama is somehow weak on policy or performance because he didn’t hold any hearings. It raises questions about how he deploys people in an array of different directions simultaneously. As a U.S. Senator, Obama has a huge staff — and some compensated in part to support his committee responsibilities. He should have held any number of Hearings — but these should have been organized for him by his staff.
This matter finally came up in the debates — see below — and I have to say that I was disappointed in Obama’s response that he has been too busy to hold hearings because he was running for the presidency. I think that the best thing he can do now is to make sure that during the next months, his Senate staff organizes some hearings for the Subcommittee on NATO and Afghanistan, Kosovo, or any number of other subjects.
He needs to take this criticism and turn it around so that as he moves through the primary process, he modifies his management focus to make sure that his “substantive work” — being paid for by taxpayers in his role in the Senate — is getting the same attention as his ambition to move into the White House.

— Steve Clemons


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